“Gifted, Poor and Sassy” – A Guest Post by Jade Rivera

Jade Ann Rivera on being gifted, sassy and poor

This summer I’m featuring some female writers on topics near-and-dear to my heart. Welcome Jade Rivera as she talks about growing up poor and gifted.

My parents had known each other for six months when my mother became pregnant with me. She was eighteen years old, and wild, even by today’s standards. My father was nineteen, and the most handsome guitar player on Purdue Campus.

They both dropped out of college and quickly married before my father left for Marine Corps basic training. They ended up together, though near strangers, in Twentynine Palms, California – a tiny, dusty speck of a military town surrounded by the beautiful Joshua Tree National Park.

The demise of their marriage was easy to predict. Within two years they had my sister and my mother was feeling restless. Within a year she was engaged to another Marine and my biological father wasn’t to be heard from again for many years.

Growing up there were drugs, there was desperation, and there was poverty.

Most of our (little brother, little sister, and myself) life with my mother and stepfather(s) was spent moving from state to state. At first we moved for the military, next from poverty, and then from the law. At best I was neglected and at worst I endured bouts of the kind of attention that should’ve sent my parents to jail. Somewhere along the line I was diagnosed as gifted. I’d hop from gifted program to gifted program in the public schools. I received fragments of an education by teachers who openly labeled me as “too sensitive” and “intense.” I was (and probably still am on a few levels) a creative, divergent, gifted mess.
One of my earliest education-related nightmares occurred the day I came to school and realized that everyone had learned long division the day before. I had been absent, recovering from a long few days and nights of refereeing for my parents. I walked up to my teacher’s desk to ask for an explanation and was immediately barked at to sit down. I quickly grabbed the pass and ran to the bathroom to sit in a stall and shame spiral, alone. The tears rolled down my face as I stared into the fluorescent bathroom lights and envisioned the path of loserdom that surely awaited me. I returned to class, unnoticed, red faced, and snotty; I sat in my chair and stared at my neighbor’s paper as he solved problem after problem. He told me, “Hey! Stop cheating!” I said, “I’m not cheating, I’m figuring it out.” I’ll never understand the refusal of my teacher to teach me. Was it because I was gifted? Poor? Brown?

Now I’m an independent gifted educator, and I look back on those experiences and shake my head. I’m certain that none of those teachers understood the reality of being gifted and really, how could they? A popular level of understanding about gifted theory as a holistic, inborn cognitive difference was in its infancy in the 1980s. I would look around at those classrooms full of upper-middle class white kids and think to myself, “I don’t belong here because I don’t go to fancy camps, or have college educated parents… or Nikes.”

My mother was a lot of things, but her sense of style is what I choose to remember and cherish about her. At a very early age she would say things to me like, “Style is not something you can buy” and “Style is not about fashion.” She was right about style – and that was about all she was right about.

In the sixth grade she gave me a simple yet powerful birthday gift that would change my life forever… a Sassy magazine.

For those of you who never experienced the glory that was Sassy, it was essentially a magazine for young girls who identified with what we now know as “indie” culture. It was for girls who, despite the available evidence, just knew in their hearts and heads that there had to be more to life than what was being sold to us in Seventeen magazine. It had a glorious do-it-yourself (DIY) vibe wrapped in the spirit of third-wave feminism. I would pore endlessly over articles about the burgeoning Riot Grrrl scene, how to DIY your style, and the truth about sexually transmitted diseases.

I was lucky, for some reason the school libraries in those days had monthly magazine subscriptions and usually Sassy was in there. If it wasn’t, I stole it, because there was no way in hell anyone was going to spend three dollars a month for me to get my monthly dose of optimism. That magazine became my compass in ways that I’m only now starting to fully appreciate.

The message was simple…

Do you need it, want it, or gotta have it?

Do It Yourself

As I flipped through the worn pages of my Sassy magazines I was indoctrinated with an almost spiritual DIY sensibility. It became obvious to me that no one was going to save me. I was going to have to save myself.

It is important to note that although this story has some sadness to it, I’m one of the lucky ones! Not all gifted children, disadvantaged or otherwise, find the same outlet or understanding. This is why gifted advocacy is so very important.

With my first Sassy magazine I firmly and consciously set foot on a course to leave my abusive home as soon as possible. I worked under-the-table jobs cleaning house from the age of twelve to have a taste of independence and gain experience. My mother hijacked most of my money, but I knew employment begets employment. It was obvious no one was going to make sure I fulfilled college requirements, took the SAT, or made admission deadlines. So I did it myself. I forged all of my parents’ signatures on my FAFSA as well as every other piece of paper that stood between my independence and me, and I’m proud of that.

My life had not prepared me for college and I graduated anyway. I ended up with a lovely, little life that I made myself. On my journey, I stumbled upon a community of beautiful, struggling gifted people who desperately needed help with their gifted children. I looked at all of them and said, “You know what guys, we can do this ourselves.” At that time I didn’t even really know what it meant to be gifted. I only knew that traditional school had failed me on multiple levels and now I had a chance to make it better for children like me.

Jade Rivera is an independent educator of gifted and twice exceptional children living in Oakland, CA with her wonderful boyfriend  fiance Sam and his older-than-dirt cat, Earl. She’s passionate about alternative education and anything creative. You can learn more about Jade at JadeAnnReivera.com.

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“I’m a Reformed Helicopter Mom”

Read an excerpt of "Boy Without Instructions" at RedWhiteandGrew.com

This summer I’m pleased to host some talented women writers who share my own eclectic intellectual interests. This first installment in the series is an excerpt from Penny Williams’ new book, Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD.

FTC disclosure: a courtesy link to the book is provided via my Amazon Affiliate account at the end of this post.*

Hi. My name is Penny Williams… and I’m a helicopter mom.
Excuse me, I was a helicopter mom. I worked very hard to reform this behavior and relinquish my pilot’s license. I hate flying anyway!

By definition, a helicopter parent is: “a mother or father that hovers over a child; an overprotective parent.”

Yep, that was me alright. I was a master hoverer. My son, Ricochet’s, ADHD counselor had been harping at me about this for quite some time.

“You need to let him fail at some point,” she always said — firmly, but with compassion.

“You need to step back, let Ricochet do whatever he can or will, at whatever success level comes with it, and then experience the natural consequences.”

You want me to let my child fail?!

Her suggestion to let my child be unsuccessful certainly fell on deaf ears the first six months she tried to convince me it was a requirement. I didn’t even try to refute it. To engage in conversation about it would have acknowledged such words were uttered, and I was not ready to hear that yet. I pretended she never suggested such a wicked thing.

I then debated this behavior modification proposal with her for at least another six months. I wasn’t ready to accept that the best course of action for my son might actually be to sit back and watch him fail, but I couldn’t resist the debate any longer.

“How does letting Ricochet fail help his already poor sense of self?” I’d argue.

“If I can help him, why wouldn’t I?” I’d ask from deep within my big momma heart.

“Isn’t it at the essence of a parent’s job to not let their kids fail? Aren’t I supposed to be his protector?” I’d plead.

Sitting on my hands, biting my tongue, and watching my child fail went against my very nature. I was a worrier by both genetics and environment. I’ve always had high anxiety, especially in social situations. My number-one motivator most of the time is fear — fear of failing, fear of being less than perfect, fear of being judged by others — we’re all driven by fear to some degree, but arguably a lesser degree than I am. I cringed at the thought of my child feeling physical pain. I could be driven to tears imagining how my kids felt when their feelings were hurt. Thinking the unthinkable, kidnapping or worse, sent me straight into an anxiety-fueled tailspin. Why would I let that happen if I could prevent it? My job as momma is to protect my children, to stand firm between them and harm.

Admittedly, I had taken that philosophy too far. I was a textbook hoverer. I over-thought every scenario. I weighed the pros and cons days in advance for every situation there was even the slightest possibility might surface. I tried to anticipate the severity of the risk. For heaven’s sakes, my children did not go outside to play at all the five years we lived on the mountain, because several times a year we had black bears roaming our property and traipsing up to our door. The bears never approached when we were outside. They were only around our house approximately 1/50th of the year. Those odds weren’t bad, and yet I focused on the what-ifs until the thought of letting them outside seemed like child neglect or potential manslaughter by bear or something. What was I thinking? Well, I was over-thinking, and that’s a hallmark of a helicopter parent.

Our counselor’s point, though, and it was a good one, was not to push Ricochet aside and let him fail or let him get hurt. Her point was that I had to teach him the skills to work around his ADHD, and then step back and let him find his own way from there. Not only would that force him to step up and do the work, but it would also give him the breathing room to develop his own compensatory measures for ADHD. After all, kids are most successful when they do things their own way? Aren’t we all?

At some point after receiving this advice numerous times over a year, I accepted the reality that I was a helicopter mom, interfering in my children’s lives entirely too much. Of course, it was my job to care for them, but it was not my job to do everything for them and foresee every danger. I couldn’t put them in a bubble and lock out the world so they didn’t experience hurt. Hurt is a part of life, and mistakes teach us valuable lessons and make us stronger. Babying them could actually make them weak.

That revelation bears repeating: Babying my children could actually make them weak.

That awareness was profound.

My hovering over Ricochet’s every move, poised and ready to cushion his fall or prevent emotional pain, was holding him back. It also fueled arguments and power struggles. I was setting the fuse for repeat explosions.

There was a measurable improvement after I relinquished my pilot’s license and stopped hovering (most of the time). Leaving Ricochet to discover and try led him to figure out how to be more like his peers in the ways he needed to be, when possible. He was happier doing things as his peers did, I guarantee. I consistently had to sit on my hands, zip my lips, and let him try.

My son was a happier kid after I quit hovering over and around him all the time. Warrior Girl, Ricochet’s older sister, was happier, too (although she quickly became aware of how much Momma really did to keep her on track). And I am certainly happier not feeling like we have to worry so much about the fate of our littles. While I have never had a broken bone (knocking fiercely on my wood desk right now), it is a part of childhood. Sorry, Mom, I have to say this, I likely didn’t have this “childhood injury” because my mom was overprotective, too. Where do you think I inherited the tendency?

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? Okay, let’s not get carried away, I’m not ready to go that far yet! I could relinquish a lot of control without risking safety, and that’s just what I did.

Author Penny WilliamsA self-described “veteran” parent of a son with ADHD, Penny Williams is the author of the Amazon best-seller about her parenthood in the trenches, Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD. She is also the creator of the award-winning website, {a mom’s view of ADHD}, and a frequent contributor on parenting a child with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications. Look for her second book, What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD, in late 2014. Follow Penny and get updates about Ricochet at BoyWithoutInstructions.com.


*Basically, if you purchase the book mentioned in this post via Amazon.com–in print or via Kindle, then I receive a teeny-tiny bit of money for the transaction. Mostly, however, I include the link to help you locate the book. 


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